The Dream, by Émile Zola

30655918In this book we meet Angelique, an orphan girl that escaped from a foster home where she was victim of violence. She’s found on the stairs of a cathedral by the Huberts, who are masters embroiderers and work and live next to the building. They decide to take care of her and teach her the art of embroidery. Angelique is a very tempestuous child, she has quite a temper and experiences serious mood swings. As long as she grows older, she manages to control herself. Eventually, the Huberts grow very fond of her and adopt her as her own, because they’re childless. Before the official adoption, Mr. Hubert travels to Paris to investigate Angelique’s origins. That’s how we found out that she’s Sidonie Rougon’s daughter. Sidonie is Eugène and Aristide’s sister, an unfeeling, cold, dry woman incapable of love. She is a professional procuress, a seller of “anything and everything”, and plays an important part in The Kill.

Angelique becomes into a magnificent embroiderer, and she gets fascinated by the saints and martyrs tales. She dreams to be saved by a handsome prince and to live happily ever after, and believes her dream came true when she met Félicien, a very handsome boy who introduces himself as an artisan, just like she and the Huberts, but he’s actually the heir of an old family of knights, heroes, and nobles.

Unlike the other books, who are filled with historical background, this story seemed to me completely out of time. Because of the strongly religious influence and context, Huberts’ artisanal life, Angelique’s dreams, and the landscapes and surroundings described, I felt it like a medieval tale.


Money, by Émile Zola

30350548Another book centered on Aristide. It starts a few years after The Kill, with a now widowed and bankrupt Saccard. We know by now that Aristide desires nothing but a fountain of  ever flowing money, not exactly to accumulate it, but to spend it all and keep it going, so he’s always lurking around the Bourse, waiting, planning, trying to find a way to take it over. His desire is to dethrone the Jewish bankers, and he is insufflated of a very profound anti-semitism. With the idea of making incredible amounts of money and re-establish himself on the Bourse,  Saccard creates the Universal Bank, a financial establishment to fund his neighbour’s dreams of restoring Christianity to the Middle East through great public works: rail lines linking important cities, improved roads and transportation, etc.

The novel is full of stock market’s language and content, so it was a bit hard for me to follow, but it had certain passages, describing an entire day in the Bourse like a battlefield, told with loads of adrenaline! The book shows us the effects of stock market speculation on rich and poor, because all of them invest in the Universal Bank. We also found out that Aristide and Eugène aren’t in good relations, since Saccard’s bankruptcy, and that Saccard has an illegitimate son, Victor, from a girl he raped during his first days in Paris. Victor is described as brutal as the way he was conceived, worsened by his life of abject poverty.

The Kill, by Émile Zola

30350254This book is about Aristide. He arrived in Paris the day after the coup d’état, and went right to meet his brother Eugène, asking for help to establish himself and his family (wife and two kids). After his brother’s advice, he changed his last name to Saccard, so he wouldn’t be easily associated with Eugène. After his wife’s death, he married for money with a “disgraced” girl (she was rapped and got pregnant, so she is not a good catch anymore), Renée. Aristide, with the wealth of his new wife, became very rich through real-estate speculation and so starts to live a type of life that, at some point, he can’t afford anymore. Which follows with more speculation, more debts, more ostensible wealth, in a never ending cycle. In her mundane and luxurious life, Renée gets bored of her lovers and is in the search of a new excitement in her life, which she finds in Maxime, Aristide’s son from his first marriage.

His Excellency, by Émile Zola

30128106In this book, we get to see the political operations and way of work during the II Empire through Zola’s eyes.

We follow now Eugène’s story. Working for the now established II Empire, he climbed his way up to be one of the Emperor’s Ministers. Like I said on the last post, he’s driven by power, and he doesn’t care by money at all. He just likes to be obeyed, to be feared, he likes to oppress people. He’s surrounded by a big entourage, formed by a very heterogeneous group of individuals, all with their own purposes, all begging for something, all trying to be on his favor. They helped him to get his position, mostly working for their own interest. Once they got what they originally wanted, they ask for more, and more, and more, and when at some point Eugène just can’t  (or doesn’t want to) help them anymore, they plot against him and plan his downfall.

The Fortune of the Rougons, by Émile Zola

20161215_183126Here starts the Émile Zola craze. A couple of years ago I went after his Rougon-Macquart series, but I read the books as I found them, with no order. Each book can be read as standalone, but it is sometimes hard to follow the background story of certain characters. So last year, owning now most of the books in the series, I decided to follow the order suggested by Zola himself, which is not the publishing order. 

After reading several books in the series, I found this one was really clarifying. It explains the origin of the family: how Adelaide Fouque got married with Rougon and had her eldest son, Pierre, and how after Rougon’s death, she gave birth to two other kids, Ursule and Antoine, fathered by his lover Macquart. Because Adélaïde and Macquart never got married, their children were illegitimate, and as such were treated by the people and by their brother Pierre. This book shows us the development of the entire family, and we get to know, at least by name, up to the third generation:  

The book comes and goes between the past and the present. When on the past, it explains the origin and development of the family and each member. Zola’s plan for the Rougon-Macquart novels was to show how heredity and environment worked on members of one family. All characters are a mixture between their parent’s traits, both physical and intellectual. So, for example, Eugène Rougon is physically similar to his father, and has the ambition of power and control from his mother. Aristide has his mother’s physical traits and is also driven by ambition, but to money instead of power. And so all the characters… When on the present, the story is centered on two views: on one side, Pierre and Félicité’s desire for power and money, plotting and trying to take advantage of the unstable political situation and imminent coup d’état. On the other side is the tragic story of Silvère (Ursule’s son), living with his mentally ill grandmother, dreaming with the Republic, and falling in love with Miette.

Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray

20161215_183138This was my first “old-big-classic novel” read in English. The main characters are Rebecca “Becky” Sharp and Amelia “Emmy” Sedley, two friends that couldn’t be more different. Rebecca is an orphan from uncertain origin (her father was an artist! her mother was a dancer! such a scandal, such an outrage!) and, as we’ll see along the story, uncertain moral sense. Penniless and friendless, as she likes to call herself, she spends some days with the Sedleys, before going to take a place as a governess.  Amelia, on the other hand, is like an angel, sweet, loving, incapable of any ill thought, quite naive, weak and easy to manipulate.  She only thinks about her adored fiance George Osborne, son of a rich bourgeois with great airs, another character of questionable personality. He is in the army. During her stay with the Sedleys, Rebecca tries to catch Amelia’s elder brother Joseph (“Jos”), a civil servant from the East Indies Company. Jos is quite gullible and was just about to propose to Rebecca if it wasn’t for William Dobbin, George’s friend and comrade from the army. Dobbin is a gentleman of very high moral and principles, and it’s deeply in love with Amelia, and looks after nothing but her happiness. Unfortunately for him, Amelia’s happiness relies on George, so Dobbin makes his job to get him “on track”.

After failing in her attempt to get Jos, Rebecca leaves for her position as governess at Queen’s Crawley. Sir Crawley has two sons from his first marriage, Pitt and Rawdon, and two daughters from his present marriage, the new pupils of Rebecca. Pitt, as the elder son, is heir  to the property and title, and it’s quite a dull and boring character. Rawdon is a player and a heartbreaker, a lot like George, but with better luck at cards games. He’s under the protection of a very old and very wealthy aunt, Miss Crawley. The entire family is after her fortune, but she has eyes only for Rawdon, and gets very attached to Rebecca, because she admires her intelligence and wit.

Basically, these are the main characters. The narrator keeps us up with the girls’ lives: Amelia is going to suffer a lot in the following years. Rebecca will, through wit, cunning and lies, keep herself on float for a long time, she’s a survivor and, despite her despicable personality, she’s very smart. Both will deal with a lot of struggles, and we see how they get through them in their own personal way.

The book, as it seems, is quite LONG but, in my humble opinion, is exquisitely written. It’s very FUNNY, and has a lot of scenes of pure comedy. I totally LOVED it.

El hombre ordinario, by Mariano Hamilton and Alejandro Marinelli

26595800English translation: The Ordinary Man

If this were a movie, it would be a film noir, a classic private detective movie, with a sexy secretary, a lot of smoking and alcohol drinking and such things. It’s placed in 1971, here in Argentina, and this detective is hired for the investigation of the death of a man that, apparently, was nothing but a boring, routinary, common man, and that, apparently, died in an accident during his annual solo vacation in Bariloche. Of course, it wasn’t an accident, and, of course, this guy was far from being common. It was a very good story, and I really enjoyed reading it.